Stylish and Modern in Brockton

Stylish and Modern in Brockton

By Andrew Clark, Boston Globe Correspondent | May 29, 2008

The loft was sleek, affordable, and in an up-and-coming neighborhood. It was everything the couple was looking for.

Wait a second. It was in Brockton?

“It was a no-brainer for us,” said Mara Karapetian, 29, who moved from Somerville into the Lofts at SoCo on Centre Street with her husband in November 2005. “The price was right for us and the look and feel of it was right up our alley.”

Karapetian is among scores of young professionals who have migrated to Brockton in the past few years. Although the city has been hit hard recently by foreclosures – it had the highest foreclosure rate last year in the suburbs south of Boston – it also has gotten a boost from new developments that have capitalized on Brockton’s convenience and renewal efforts.

Part of Brockton’s upswing began in December 1997, when the Old Colony commuter-rail line was restored. With three stops in the city – Montello, Brockton, and Campello – residents were provided with easy access to Boston. Additionally, the rail service attracted renewed interest in the city.

“The rail allowed us to do two things,” Brockton Mayor James Harrington said. “First, it allowed people to get from Brockton to Boston in 25 minutes. Second, it allowed all of these projects, like the lofts, to start coming in as young professionals came into the city. They found Brockton a cheaper alternative to living in Boston, and they could get into Boston easily if they needed to.”

Improvements began throughout the area as undeveloped land and aging, outdated buildings underwent transformations.

Once a landscape for vacant storefronts, the Westgate Mall in the northwest section of the city has been revitalized. With renovations beginning in 1999, stores such as Old Navy, Best Buy, and Macy’s arrived to replace empty spaces. The area outside of the mall also was improved. Nearby, Dick’s Sporting Goods was erected where a movie theater once stood. Restaurants such as Bugaboo Creek and Texas Roadhouse created a dining scene.

The 2002 opening of Campanelli Stadium provided not only a home for the Brockton Rox of the Can-Am independent baseball league, but an entertainment venue as well. Willie Nelson, Def Leppard, and Bob Dylan have appeared there.

Attached to the stadium is the Shaw’s Center, a 15,000-square-foot facility used for social events, including weddings and bat mitzvahs. The Shaw’s Center even hosts boxing matches, the sport with which Brockton is most associated.

In 2003, after a two-year, $12.1 million investment, the main branch of the 90-year-old Brockton Public Library reopened. The work increased floor space twofold while preserving the library’s antique beauty.

Still on the city’s planning horizon: A 12-screen movie theatre at the Westgate Mall, a performing arts center on West Elm Street along with a memorial for Brockton war veterans, and a museum devoted to a hometown hero, boxer Rocky Marciano.

“It’s clear that all of these additions and improvements the city has been making have given the people of the city hope,” Harrington said. “The city has made some gambles along the way. That’s the way to bring a city back, by making gambles.”

If any single development recently has sparked hope of an ongoing revival, it is the Lofts at SoCo., in the heart of downtown.

The 64-unit building, finished in November 2005, originally was the home of the Etonic shoe factory. It was developed by Juliano Enterprises, in a joint venture with Boston-based Cathartes Private Investments. Starting at $200,000, the units sold quickly as young professionals jumped on the opportunity to own trendy housing without the trendy pricing of Boston and Cambridge.

Despite a spate of violence Brockton faced in February, SoCo residents remain enamored with their decision to live in the city.

Conor Yunits, 27, son of a former mayor and now a candidate for state representative, has lived in the Lofts at SoCo for more than a year. “There’s no sign of [the violence] anywhere near where we live. I’m a Brockton lifer and I’ve never felt threatened downtown. The Police Station is right there across the street and there’s no trouble from the federal housing projects around the area.”

Following the success of the Lofts at SoCo, the companies launched the second phase, completing SoCo 146 last June. The 72-unit building, which abuts the Lofts at SoCo, also occupies a converted shoe factory. So far, 95 percent of the units have been sold.

Other new housing developments have been successful as well, such as the 16-unit Times Building condominiums on Main Street and the 21-unit Campello Heights complex on the city’s south side. More projects, such as the proposed Renaissance Village Development, a 241-unit building in the downtown area, are on the way.

“Housing in Brockton is still generally affordable under most standards,” said former Brockton mayor Jack Yunits, who held the office from 1995 to 2006. “There are homes on the West Side in the upper $300,000 to lower $500,000 range that would go for over a million dollars in Brookline and Newton. Also, Alfred Campanelli built nearly 7,000 adapted ranch-style homes in the city. They’re beautiful, in great neighborhoods, and are nice starter homes for most young people.”

Still, the city sometimes is marred by spurts of violence. The most recent was a five-day stretch in February during which three separate shootings resulted in two deaths. Many Brockton officials and community leaders view the problem as a localized one.

“Any city has its unsafe areas,” said Gary Cournoyer, a longtime real estate agent. “Seventy-five percent of the city is perfectly safe.”

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